Pulitzer Prize, History, 1993 Grand in scope, rigorous in its arguments, and elegantly synthesizing 30 years of scholarship, Gordon S. Wood's Pulitzer Prize–winning book analyzes the social, political, and economic consequences of 1776. In The Radicalism of the American Revolution, Wood depicts not just a break with England, but the rejection of an entire way of life: of a society with feudal dependencies, a politics of patronage, and a world view in which people were divided between the nobility and "the Herd." He shows how the theories of the country's founders became realities that sometimes baffled and disappointed them. Above all, Bancroft Prize–winning historian Wood rescues the revolution from abstraction, allowing readers to see it with a true sense of its drama---and not a little awe.
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In December 2013, researchers from Emory University published "Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain." The paper, published in "Brain Connectivity" starts with "Most people can identify books that have made great impressions on them and, subjectively, changed the way they think." The authors, Gregory S. Bern et. al., using functional MRIs, determined that reading a novel literally changes neural connectivity, at least for a short period of time. I believe the same changes take place while reading/listening to a non-fiction work.
If I had been in that study while I listened to Gordon S. Woods' 1993 Pulitzer-prize winning non-fiction book "The Radicalism of the American Revolution," I would have shown those changes, too. This book literally made me think differently, certainly about the American Revolution, but also about common democracy, the birth of nations, macroeconomics and the use of currency . . . & etc. The changes may be long term for me: because of the complexity of what Woods described and his interpretation of what it meant, I was only able to listen for an hour or so at a time, before I set the listen aside to think about what I heard. It took me several months to finish the book.
I had never considered the full impact of the American Revolution, beyond the overarching change from a hereditary and despotic monarchy to a democracy. Social systems, such as care for the infirm, elderly and indigent, which had been provided as a matter of noblesse oblige by titled members of society, had to be reimagined and reinvented. Land ownership had been established and controlled in the British Isles by the 1086 AD Domesday Book, under the direction of William the Conqueror. In the States, that ancient accounting meant nothing. Wealth in America was acquired by hard work and tenacity, and it was no longer an embarrassment to work for a living, rather than inherit a tidy sum and live a life of leisure buoyed by careful investment and management of tenant farmers. Success no longer depended on who you were born to, and neither did the ability to obtain an education. Corporations, who have a major influence on our daily lives now, came into existence with the basic criteria that they be registered in a State and pay taxes.
Wood notes that in the 18th and 19th centuries, the social, governmental and economic revolution in America belonged to White, Protestant Men, but that laid the foundation for the democratic advancement of blacks and other ethnic groups, women, non-Protestants, and so on. The book doesn't mention equal rights for gays, but it was written 20 years ago, and those rights are a logical extension. Woods also pointed out that the founding fathers - especially Thomas Jefferson and John Adams - did not anticipate this radical cultural shift, and were entirely dismayed.
I didn't think "The Radicalism of the American Revolution" was particularly well written, especially in comparison to Doris Kearns Goodwin's books (most recently, "The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism" (2013).) Woods could have used a good edit - he tended to wander off topic, and organization isn't his strongest skill. At times, his arguments were hectoring. These 'faults' actually meant that I thought more critically about the book and its ideas than I would have with an easier listen, which reinforced what I learned.
Definitely worth the listen, but it's not for beginners: you'll need a basic understanding of the timeline and leaders from the 1700's and early 1800's to know who Woods is referring to.
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